From its creepy monophonic chants and howling church organ to its metaphorical invocation of death and resurrection, Radiator King’s new single “Hammer & Nails” is downright Biblical. The kind of depraved gutter gospel song that comes slithering from an alley at 4am in the eye of a thunderstorm, shouting dark secrets about the human condition at unsuspecting passersby before vanishing into the fog.
Singer-guitarist Adam Silvestri plays the role of the wild-eyed street preacher, calling down hellfire while slashing out staccato guitar chords, the slapback echoing into the night, while keyboardist Alexander Burke’s Hammond B3 flickers as if a thousand votive candles lit for just as many unanswered prayers, and Brian Viglione’s furious drumming rises to the heavens like so much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Each subsequent revelation is illuminated by a fleeting flash of lightning, punctuated by the thundercrack of the snare. It’s an anthem for the downtrodden, the perennial underdogs, that eternal parade of tragic figures ceaselessly dealt a poor hand from cradle to grave. It’s a song of redemption—the kind you desperately want to believe in, even as experience keeps your guard permanently raised.
“When writing a song,” Silvestri says, “it can be very useful to tap into the folklore and mythology of a culture—references ingrained in society’s DNA—and the Bible certainly fits into that category. When I sing, ‘Some are born to be the hammer / Some are born to be the nail’—it’s not a new statement, it’s been around, but it encapsulates what was on my mind and what I wanted to say. The approach is like the old blues tradition of taking previously written lines and repurposing them to fit your life and what you’re trying to express. It gives the song a mystique. ‘Hammer & Nails’ addresses the dark and the light in each of us. There’s a palpable evil in it, but also renewal.”
A decade into its existence, Radiator King has also been born anew. What was once the moniker of NYC-via-Boston solo artist Adam Silvestri is now a full-fledged band. The change came when SiIvestri packed up his van and relocated to Los Angeles in 2021 at the insistence of longtime collaborator Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, Nine Inch Nails, Violent Femmes). The two commiserated to turn the project’s previously rotating cast into a cohesive unit with a fixed lineup that would develop its own unique sound. After some experimentation, they settled on a power trio, albeit an unconventional one—drums, guitar, keys. Completing the trinity, they enlisted virtuoso composer & keyboardist Alexander Burke (Bob Dylan, Joseph Arthur, Grant Lee-Phillips).
From the start of this new era, the chemistry of the Silvestri-Viglione brotherhood was firmly in place, the two having worked together on several Radiator King albums and tours since becoming fast friends in New York in 2015. “When I met Brian, it was clear we were kindred spirits,” Silvestri says. “There was an immediate connection the first time we played together—like I’d known him my whole life. A lot of drummers stay on the periphery of the song—they don’t concern themselves with the lyrics and melody or get too deep into the writing process. But Brian does. He listens very closely to everything that’s going on. He’s the most creative drummer I’ve ever played with, and he takes his work very seriously. He doesn’t take himself seriously, but he takes creating music seriously. He’s the heartbeat of the band, this energetic presence. Spend five minutes with him and you’ll see that there’s no separation between who he is as a person and the way he approaches the drums. Playing with him is always a magical experience. It just draws something out of me, something primal.”
To his credit, Burke was able to slide effortlessly into the mix from his earliest jam sessions with the band. Silvestri credits his savant-ish skills and big-picture musical vision. “Alex has this ability to completely work out a musical idea in his mind before he even puts his hands on the keys. It’s no wonder he’s so in demand, whether writing musicals or playing on sessions for Dylan or Springsteen. But he’s still such a humble, unassuming guy. One key element that Alex brings to the new Radiator King is his background scoring films—a lot of horror films actually. He’s not just another songwriter; he’s a composer. It brings a whole different flavor to the songs.”
The sessions that yielded “Hammer & Nails” took place at L.A.’s Kingsize Soundlabs, with session player Art Santora on bass. To guide things, Radiator King sought out veteran record producer Ted Hutt, whose credits include The Gaslight Anthem, Chuck Ragan, Lucero, Jesse Malin, The Devil Makes Three, and a Grammy-winning collaboration with Old Crow Medicine Show.
“What drew me to Ted initially—he knows how to capture the energy of bands with a raw sound who are built for live shows,” SIlvestri says. “We had this really great first conversation. He said, ‘if we’re going to make music together, we have to build a relationship.’ So he started coming to rehearsals and getting to know the band. Through the whole process, he went above and beyond to foster a relationship with us, to understand our potential and draw it out of us.”
Between songs at practice, Hutt would fire off questions about their lives—who they are as musicians and people, their formative experiences, influences and relationships. He encouraged Radiator King to bring those personal elements with them into the studio and the writing process. “Ted wanted us to express ourselves in the most genuine, natural way,” Silvestri says. “He was pivotal in a philosophical sense—erasing boundaries and guiding us to rely on our most innate tendencies. He was like our coach, our trainer—the person in our corner with all this wisdom who could see everything from the outside looking in.”
What most separates Radiator King’s present direction and sound from everything he’s done in the past, Silvestri says, is the highly collaborative nature of the new songs, which the band has been spontaneously banging out together at their Hollywood rehearsal space.
“We’re all so happy to be here,” he says. “ It’s like we’re teenagers again in the basement of our parents’ houses making a bunch of noise. Really, that’s what you’re looking for when you’re making music—that childhood mentality and sense of wonder where anything seems possible. When you write together as a unit, there’s an alchemy to it that goes beyond supporting players adding their own stamp on their respective instrument. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.